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Plea in court: meaning, types, and everything you need to know

This is a guide to plea in court.

When someone is accused of a crime, they must appear in court for an arraignment and respond to the accusation.

This official response is known as a plea.

A defendant has two options: either plead guilty to the charges or plead not guilty to them.

A defendant may also enter a plea of nolo contendere, which admits culpability without admitting guilt. Sentence follows a guilty or nolo contendere plea.

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Following a not guilty plea, there would be more investigation and ultimately a trial. Additionally, a plea bargaining deal might be presented to the defendant, in which case the defendant enters a guilty plea in exchange for reduced or withdrawn charges or a shorter sentence.

In this guide, you will learn

  • what is plea
  • what can you plea in court
  • the process of plea in court
  • withdrawal of plea in court
  • consequences of plea in court
  • etc.

Let’s get started

What is Plea?

Black’s law dictionary defines a term plea as an accused person’s formal response of guilty, not guilty, or no contest to a criminal charge.

In any case and subject to some statutory exceptions, the plea must be personal, free, voluntary, and by a fit person.

That’s the reason why the accused should be present at the trial so that he may hear the case made against him and have the opportunity of answering it.

What can you plea in court

Generally, there are several types of plea that you can you plea in court, including Plea of guilty, Plea of not guilty, Plea of Autre Fois convict, Autre Fois acquit, and pardon

Types of plea, what can you plea in court

What is the Plea of guilty?

In simple terms plea of guilty means, a confession to the offense charged.

A plea of guilty has two aspects, First of all, it is a confession of facts, and second, it is such a confession that without further evidence the court is sniffed to and indeed in all proper circumstances will and upon it and result in a conviction.

A plea of guilty must be clear and free from ambiguities that are to say it must be an unequivocal plea, a plea like “it is true”, “ l admit” “ l did Wrong”, but if someone plea that it is  “ true but…” “Did it because….” And the like this is not clear and it is full of ambiguities and so it is an equivocal plea.

The plea of an accused should not be equivocal.

It is prudent that before accepting a plea of guilty by the accused the court must be satisfied that the accused reply is nothing but a clear admission of guilt.

The reading of a charge and calling the accused to plead is not enough, the court must make sure that the accused understands the substance of the charge and he must admit all the ingredients of the offense.

What happens after pleading guilty?

If the accused plead guilty to the charge his admission shall be recorded as nearly as possible in the words he uses, and the magistrate should convict him and pass sentence upon or make an order against him unless there shall appear to be sufficient cause to the contrary.

The court records everything which the accused persons say in his own words which indicates that he has actually pleaded guilty.

It is emphasized that when the accused pleads guilty to charges the prosecution should be called upon to state in some detail the fact constituting the offense that is recorded.

The accused should be asked if he agrees or disagrees with the fact alleged.

If he agrees and if to facts stated to support the charge, then and only then should a conviction be entered.

If the accused denies some facts stated that are essential to the charge then a plea of not guilty should be entered in substitution for the first plea then the case should go to trial.

In some instances, the facts denied by the accused might not affect the validity of the charge in which case, if the prosecution is willing to accept the accuser’s version of guilty, will remain undisturbed and a conviction be entered.

What is a Plea of not guilty?

A plea of guilt is the type of plea entered where the accused denies the charge in such a term as “it is not true” “am not guilty” it is a lie,” and so on.

Plea of not guilty may be necessitated by a number of factors for example when the accused does not admit the truth of the charge, when the accused admits the truth of the charge but in fact, his plea is equivocal (ambiguity), where the accused refuses to plead, etc.

Plea of Autirefois Convict, Autirefois Acquit and Pardon

Plea of Autirefois Convict, Autirefois Acquit, and Pardon is the kind of plea where the accused pleads that he was been acquitted or convicted or has obtained a pardon.

In law, the court should inquire whether such a plea is true or not.

It is the law of the administration of criminal justice that no person shall be tried twice for the same offense arising of the same facts unless the previous conviction has been set aside or reversed.

How To Prove Plea of Autirefois Convict, Autirefois Acquit and Pardon

Previous Acquittal

This by a certificate-certified copy of the acquittal order or a releaser certificate of the prison department where the accused was in remand before the acquittal and a certified copy of judgment- Local or foreign, lastly a prison discharged warrants.

Previous conviction

A certified copy of the sentence or order, or a certificate of the prison department, and lastly a certified true copy of the judgment.


A certificate by the statehouse or home affairs ministry, a certificate by the prison departments, or a warrant of discharge.

Consequences of Failing to Ask the Accused Person to Plead To the Charge

It is the requirement of the law that after a charge has been read over the accused person must reply. It is not complete until he has pleaded to the charge. Where no plea is taken the trial is a nullity. The omission to take a plea is an incurable irregularity.

It has further been argued that the magistrate may take a plea afresh even if the accused plea had been taken on the previous day by the different magistrates.

However, failure to take a plea afresh where the case has been postponed and the accused appeared before another magistrate is not fatal.

Moreover, failure to take a plea to the accused person is against the rule of natural justice that a man must not be condemned unheard and he cannot be asked to defend himself on an accusation of which he is not aware, that is necessary the charge be read over and explained to the accused person.

Can a plea be withdrawn?

Yes, the court may allow an accused person to withdraw his plea at any time of the proceedings before the sentence or a final order is made. The court must record reasons for permitting the accused to withdraw his plea.

The court may allow the accused to withdraw the plea of guilty even after conviction but prior to the imposition of the sentence where facts raised in mitigation constitute a denial of the offense.

The power of the court to allow withdrawal of a plea of guilty where it is unequivocal is discretionary i.e. the court can allow or disallow the withdrawal of a plea of guilty.

The magistrate is required to apply his mind judicially and that is why he has to record his reasons for refusal and also for allowing the accused to change his plea.

Plea of Co-Accused

Where there are several accused persons charged jointly and some of them plead guilty, the proper procedure is to convict those who plead guilty and proceed to try the others.

The issue of whether they should be sentenced straight away will depend on whether or not the prosecution intends to call them as witnesses.


Up to this point, I’m sure you have a clear understanding of plea issues in criminal justice.

The above discussion covered on meaning and types of the plea, the consequence of not taking of plea, withdrawal of the plea, and plea of not guilty.

Isack Kimaro
Isack Kimaro

Isack Kimaro, a lawyer, Creative Writer and self-taught SEO expert has been a prominent author of law-related topics since 2017. Through hard work, dedication, and a relentless pursuit of knowledge, Isack has successfully navigated the legal industry by providing valuable and easy-to-understand legal information to 500,000+ individuals of all levels of understanding.